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Museum seeks to fund raises for employees
Board looks to maintain competitive pay

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Virginia Museum of Natural History officials hope to find a way to eventually increase employee salaries although the museum’s funding remains flat.

The first step is to study how employees’ salaries compare to the pay levels of their peers at other institutions. The museum’s trustee board on Saturday asked Executive Director Joe Keiper to conduct such a study and present his findings during the board’s next meeting on May 18.

State workers have not seen across-the-board pay hikes in six years. House and Senate budget proposals include raises averaging about 3 percent.

However, Keiper told the board that salaries of some full-time employees at the museum are as low as about $25,000.

“People have got to (be able to) pay their bills,” board Chairman Sammy Redd said.

No matter how much people enjoy their jobs, if they are not earning enough to cover their expenses, “economics eventually takes over ... (and) they will go somewhere else” to work, said board member Brian Bates of Dillwyn.

Keiper recently learned that the museum is to receive level state funding of about $2.6 million in the new fiscal year that will start July 1.

He indicated that the museum has little leeway in its budget right now to give its workers pay raises. He also said the museum has lost talented part-time employees who found full-time jobs with benefits elsewhere.

The board also asked Keiper to present a timeline during the May meeting for developing a master plan for the museum’s facilities.

The request was made following a closed session held to discuss potentially disposing of real estate. Redd said the discussion pertained to the museum’s former building, a former elementary school on Douglas Avenue which now is used for storage.

In 2007, the museum moved into its current building on Starling Avenue in Martinsville.

Participating in the closed-door discussion was Richard Sliwoski, director of the Virginia Department of General Services, which handles matters involving state-owned real estate.

Although the museum has enough room for exhibits and collections right now, Redd said, “any institution ultimately is short on space.”

He compared the situation to owning a house. When a person buys a home, he has enough space for his belongings but over time, he accumulates more belongings and may run out of room for everything.

Redd said the museum does not plan to sell the Douglas Avenue building anytime soon because the storage space is needed.

Also Saturday, the museum board:

• Learned that about 1,200 people came to “Dino Day” on Jan. 12 and as a result, the museum earned about $5,000 in revenue.

The family-oriented festival kicked off the opening of two exhibits, “Dinosaurs” and “Dinosaur Discovery,” which run through Aug. 25.

“Dinos bring in good cash” because a lot of people are interested in the prehistoric creatures, Keiper said.

In April, he said, some artists will visit the museum to create a 20-foot-tall, 10-foot-long tyrannosaurus rex out of balloons.

The balloon model should help the museum attract “people who want (to see) something a little more artistic than sciency,” Keiper added.

• Found out that an “Australopithecus” exhibit will open at the museum on Feb. 28. It includes fossils of extinct hominids — primates much like gorillas, chimpanzees and humans — on loan from South Africa.

Hosting the exhibit will give the museum international exposure, Keiper said.

• Learned that a small exhibit on minerals now is on display at the museum.

It features 41 mineral specimens, accompanied by information panels.

• Met Elizabeth Griffin, its new counsel from the state attorney general’s office.

• Received a list of proposed officers for the coming fiscal year.

Melissa Neff Gould of Richmond was suggested by the board’s nominating committee for chairman. Christina Draper of Richmond was recommended for vice-chairman. Bates was recommended for secretary and former Martinsville mayor Dr. Mark Crabtree was suggested for treasurer.

Each person has agreed to serve in those posts if they are nominated and approved during the May 18 board meeting.

Currently, Crabtree is treasurer, Gould is vice-chairman and Draper is secretary.


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